I am so glad that you have chosen this topic: Becoming an Exemplary Christian. It shows your desire to be more than just average mediocre Christians. Daniel was an exemplary Christian and I am sure we can learn a few things from him. But before we begin to look at the life and lessons of Daniel, I would like to make three points.
First, in seeking to become exemplary Christians let us be clear what or who our standard is. Paul held himself up as a model for the believers at Corinth. He told them: “Imitate me as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). For a start, as young Christians, it is helpful to have a human model to look at and emulate. But as we mature – in order to be called ‘matured’ – we need to start looking at Christ. He is the only one who is perfect. Paul might be close to being perfect, but he is not perfect. No one is.
So let’s be clear: Christ is our standard.
Second. Once you’ve heard a sermon like what you’re about to hear on Becoming an Exemplary Christian, you might be inspired and motivated to start applying what you’ve learned. You would want to possess the various character traits that people like Daniel have. But here’s the thing. Whatever you do could either come out of your soul or your spirit. Whatever comes out of your soul is of the flesh. They are not of God. But whatever comes out of your spirit is of God. Hebrews 4 tells us that only the Word of God is able to pierce into “the division between soul and spirit”, “discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.
How will we be able to tell if our attempts to become exemplary Christians are of the flesh or of the spirit?
It will be hard, perhaps impossible for us to tell unless God shows it to us.
In Deuteronomy 8, God reveals to the Israelites the purpose of the forty-years wandering in the wilderness. He says:
And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. (verse 2)
It will be through testings – often more than one – for God to show us our hearts, whether we would keep his commandments or not.
This brings me to my third point: If you will set your heart to become an exemplary Christian today, be ready for God to test you. Don’t make vows that you are unable to keep. Vows such as “I will obey you always”. Rather, make it your prayer: “God, help me to be obedient to you always.” Jesus will respond by saying: “I AM praying for you.”
With that said, we are ready to see what we can learn from Daniel.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. (Daniel 1:1-8 ESV)
Daniel was a Hebrew living in the land of his captors, the Babylonians. He was a foreigner. But because of certain qualities that Daniel and his three friends possessed, they were selected for a special three-year training program. You’ve heard of President Scholars. Daniel and his friends were King Scholars. They had the privilege of learning “the language and literature of the Chaldeans”.
Life may not seem fair as we see some having it better than others. But God is fair. He has made everyone in His image, and given them talents and gifts to use. And to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).
Not only was Daniel and his friends able to receive high quality education freely, they were also given the highest quality food to eat … from the king’s table. But they preferred not to. Let me make it clear here that Daniel and his friends did not fast. Fasting is to choose not to eat certain foods which you are allowed to eat in the first place. This wasn’t the case for Daniel and his friends. Eating the food from the king’s table would defile them. Meaning, it would be a sin for them to do so. So they chose not to eat them.
Lesson #1: Know what God requires of you…
Sadly, many Christians do not know precisely what God requires of them. They are not clear about the commandments of God.
They are unclear about what God thinks about …
- Pre-marital sex
- Working on a Sabbath
- Paying bribes
- Divorce and Remarriage
Just to name a few.
And even if we know what God thinks about these issues and more, we do not always do them.
The Church has done well in many things. Many things. But it has not done well at all in the most important thing; the thing that Christ explicitly commanded us to do: “to make disciples … and to teach them to obey all that I have commanded” (Matt 28:19-20).
Books on discipleship and bible study abound. But disciples are still a rarity. What is the problem?
According to the writer of Hebrews, the cause of spiritual immaturity is the lack of practice.
“You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:12-14)
Notice the words “unskilled” and “practice”? They imply that action, not just knowledge is needed to become spiritually mature Christians.
Those who hear the Word of God, James says, and does not do them are deceived (James 1:22). There are many deceived Christians today, and they are okay with it. If they were not okay with it, they would have done something about it already.
God did not want Joshua to be deceived. So He commanded Joshua to meditate on the “book of the law day and night” so that he might be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then he shall make his prosperous and have many good success (Josh 1:8). In the preceding verse, God also tells Joshua to be “bold and courageous”
It takes boldness and courage to keep the commandments of God. Why? Because God’s ways are often contrary to the ways of this world. And doing them would make us look foolish to the world. Hence, it is your choice to make: to disobey God and protect your reputation and dignity, or to obey Him no matter what.
Do you believe that by keeping God’s commandments you will be at a disadvantage? Or do you believe that blessings will come upon you and overtake you when you obey Him?
If you have confidence in God’s Word and His commandments, you will be able to challenge the ways of this world, as Daniel did.
Daniel said to the steward, “Please, TEST your servants…” (verse 12). This was not the only time they challenged the ways of the Babylonians. Later Daniel would be thrown into the lions den for worshipping Yahweh, against the decree of the king (Daniel 6). His friends would be cast into the fiery furnace for not bowing to the image of gold erected by the king (Daniel 3). But each time God delivered them. What a testimony it was to the king.
Are you able to say to your boss: “Test me. I will not work on the Sabbath, but I will do as well, if not better than all in my department.”
Lesson #2: Know what God requires of you, and be bold to do them.
Let us fast forward to Daniel chapter 9.
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans—in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. (Daniel 9:1-11 ESV)
It says that Daniel had stumbled upon what God had said about the Israel’s exile to Babylon, that it would last 70 years. After some quick calculations, Daniel realizes that the 70-year period was nearing completion.
Lesson #3: Know and understand the times and seasons of God …
For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: (Eccl 3:1)
God works in times and seasons. Yet, most Christians are unaware of them. They are ignorant of the times and seasons they are living in. As a result, they only live for the ‘now’. And instead of seeking to know it, they create their own times and seasons. Churches would designate each year with phrases such as “The Year of Mission”, or “The Year of Discipleship”, etc. All these are man-made. From what I know, God does not work in yearly cycles, but typically in 7-yearly cycles – if not, then in 40-year cycles.
In Psalm 32, God asks us not to be “like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle” (verse 9). In other words, we should not need to be led and directed by God in the same way a rider steers a horse or a mule using a bit and bridle. God will guide us with His counsel (Psa 73:24).
Christians seem to be on a crusade to get more knowledge, more prophecies, more visions, etc. They forget that “Wisdom is the principle thing.” And with all their getting, they ought to be getting understanding (Prov 4:7).
He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding (Daniel 2:21)
If you do not know the times and seasons, it would be “business as usual” for you. One year will fade into the other. Your decisions will not be guided by an eternal perspective, but by a very short termed one.
Lesson #4: Know and understand the times and seasons of God, and act wisely.
Knowing this fact, that the 70-year period was coming to an end, prompted him to “make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (9:3). He began to confess the sins of his generation and that of the pervious generations. He was making spiritual preparations so that, when the time came, Israel would be able to return to Jerusalem.